A fascinating passage in the Talmud sheds light on who Job was and why he suffered so much. The Talmud (Sotah 11a) recounts how when the Jews were in Egypt, before they were enslaved, Pharaoh took counsel with his wise men; his advisors were Balaam, Job and Jethro. Pharaoh asked them how to deal with the increasing Jewish population. Balaam advised Pharaoh to persecute them, Job was silent, and Jethro fled after he saw Pharaoh’s malevolent intent.
Each one received their due. Balaam was later killed by the sword and lost his share in the World to Come, the otherwise righteous Job suffered severely before God healed him, and Jethro merited having his descendants serve in the Supreme Jewish Court. In addition, Jethro merited Moses as his son-in-law, the greatest prophet who ever lived.
We all experience defining moments, times we face moral dilemmas. The decisions we make shape the course of our lives. Through our choices, we will reap what we sow, for good or vice versa.
Moral dilemmas are as unique as we are. Each one is custom made by God to give us the opportunity to define what we want our lives to be about and to earn the bliss of Heaven. They are key reasons God put us in this world.
Examples of dilemmas: A very attractive person flirts with you, and you know the relationship will only spell trouble. Your friends pressure you to do something or go somewhere which you know is not a good idea. You come across an opportunity to engage in shady dealings, take what does not belong to you, or withhold monies due to others. You discover that your partner or boss is engaged in underhanded behavior from which you stand to gain if you go along with it. Your lawyer or accountant advises you to do something which you know is not doing, “…What is straight and what is good in the eyes of God...(Deuteronomy 6:18).”
For many of these life defining moments, we have three options:
1. Actively pursue the sinful choice, i.e., acting like Balaam.
2. Be passive, exhibiting silent acquiescence to something we know is wrong, i.e., acting like Job.
3. Stand up for our values, and if we think we will be unable to sway others, then to flee from sin like one running from a fire, i.e., acting like Jethro.
You will face defining moments; it is only a question of when. When you do, you will choose one of the above three courses of action. Whatever choice you make, there will be consequences.
Like Balaam, those who choose evil will pay a price eventually and that price is never worthwhile. Like Job, those who choose to look the other way will be held accountable for their inaction. While those who stand up for their values, become Jethros, and will reap tremendous and eternal reward.
The consequences of our actions are measure for measure. Balaam, who sought harm and destruction for the Jewish people, experienced that himself. Job, who was silent, experienced such difficulties that he could no longer maintain his silence and cried out in pain. Jethro, who stood up for what he believed in and fled from evil, had descendants who did the same.
One of the greatest rewards people can receive in this world is seeing their children and grandchildren thriving and following in the proper path. That was Jethro’s reward; he saw his descendants reach the pinnacle of greatness. If we also want to receive that reward, then, like Jethro, we also need to be role models of greatness.
Our children and grandchildren watch how we act and model what they observe. In essence, as we live our lives, we are “writing” an autobiography, one that our children and grandchildren will “read”. Write one they can be proud of and from which they will draw inspiration throughout their lives.
Choosing to emulate Jethro is not easy, but it is simple. It begins with one word: No. “No! I will not do that,” “No! I will not go along with that.” To do this, we need to be bold and resolute, reminding ourselves that when we are doing the right thing, it does not matter what other people think of us.
Often, the hardest part is evaluating each situation and deciding whether or not we will live our values. Once we decide that we will always live our values, doing so in every situation becomes automatic. (When you are not sure what to do, or your biases are likely clouding your judgment, speak to your rabbi or spiritual mentor for guidance.)
Greatness is found not only in rejecting evil, but also in embracing good. Jethro not only left his respected position as an idolatrous priest, he embraced Judaism, joining Moses and the Jews in the desert.
Become great, become a Jethro, by committing to yourself, that starting today, “I will act in keeping with my Torah values.” Make this nonnegotiable. Do this even when it’s difficult, even when it involves personal sacrifice. Then, you will live a life of meaning, one that will be an eternal source of pride for you, your family and your Creator.
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